When you tackle someone in football, you’re supposed to keep your head up. Tackling with your head down, also known as spearing, is a good way to injure people--yourself and your opponent. It’s so dangerous, in fact, that it was banned at all levels of the sport in 1976. Despite the ban, it’s a practice that persists, in large part because coaches fear that teaching their players the correct way to tackle will curb their aggressiveness. It seems a startlingly large number of coaches actually go the other way, teaching their players to use their helmet as a weapon, despite the fact that it dramatically increases the risk of serious injury on both sides of the tackle--like, permanent, crippling injury. It’s such a big deal that the NFL addressed it again in 2018, making a rule that spearing can lead to a 15 yard penalty or even ejection from the game.
We’ll set aside for a moment that there are grown men teaching children to permanently injure other children just to increase the number of wins under their belt and secure their jobs. Because if I go down that path, it’ll just turn into a tirade. A blinding rage, mama bear tirade.
My youngest is nursing his second concussion of the season. Second. Both are the result of the other team intentionally playing dirty and intentionally inflicting a head injury. I’m struggling to wrap my brain around this on so many levels. How one human could harm another just because, how a grown man could teach children to harm each other, how a grown man could knowingly endanger a child’s entire future just to pad his own ego… again, mama bear tirade. There are a couple of football coaches in the St Louis area who should probably walk the other way if they see me coming. But I digress.
What I really want to talk about today is not about the entitled sleazeballs, but about my son’s football team. About the coaches who put the kids first and go out of their way to teach them how to play the sport safely. About the programs out there that care about the kind of humans they’re shaping these young men to be. About the men who stepped in as father figures to my son and how very lost and angry he was before he found football.
I want to talk about the fact that my son’s team held their heads high even when things got rough. They played with courage and grace and heart no matter how dirty it got out on that field. The fact that there are still teams like that, still young men like that, gives me hope for our future as a society.
Because life sucks. People don’t fight fair. They pay unfair wages even when they have the means to do the right thing. They step on each other for the sake of greed, pride, and pure meanness. The playing field of life is not level. And while I am killing myself to give my children a boost up because I hope their road is easier than my own has been, I’d much rather they learn to keep their heads high no matter what life throws at them. Someone else fighting dirty isn’t an invitation to get down in the mud with them, it’s a call to rise above.
There are a few reasons my blog and books have been largely silent the past couple of years. In part, it’s just been the reality of life. I’m a single mom working multiple jobs and shuttling teenagers. There’s not a lot of time or brain power left at the end of all that to be creative.
But I’ve also been struggling with a bit of an identity crisis. As my friend Jesse puts it, “We’re not talking to Happy Heather right now…” It's hard to write about hope and love when my faith in both has been shaken to its core.
After years of silence, the words inside me are starting to shake loose again. The book they’re producing is different. It’s not part of Throwaway’s world. Jesse also told me to stop worrying about how it fit into the platform and just to write it for me, so that’s what I’m doing. And, as usual, the words are helping me process, to find healing. I’m not sure where they’re taking me, but I believe it’s somewhere better.
And I’m realizing that like my son’s football team, I want to keep my head high, even if those around me don’t. Because it’s not about winning a game, it’s about who I am as a person. And I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t believe in love, the person who’s lost hope.
It feels like the entire last year has been one dirty tackle after another, but there’s been a lot of good in it, too. So I’m gonna spit the mud out of my mouth, pick myself up, and keep playing the game with my head high.
I’ll also be figuring out what to do about dirty high school football programs and my platform (and books) might be a bit cheekier than my long-time readers are used to, but my head’ll be high...
The coffee table in my basement is a destroyer of children. When my oldest, Dylan, was hardly more than a toddler, he was picking up his toys and cracked the corner of his eye on it, earning his first stitches.
But I was the table’s first victim. When I was four, racing through the house to get my shoes so I could go to Scotty’s Hardware with my dad, I wiped out and gave myself a helluva black eye. Instead of going to the store--and getting an ice cream cone--I was left behind to sob inconsolably on my mother’s lap.
I recently ventured back into the dating world. It’s the first I’ve really opened myself up to the idea that I could find someone else since The One Who Makes Me Smile broke my heart. And I did meet someone I thought seemed nice. We had a lot in common and he told me how beautiful I was, something I sorely needed to hear after the six-month torturous death of my last relationship. That first foray into the dating world ended as abruptly as it began, though. I bounced back pretty quickly, but there was a day I was pretty down about it.
I was talking to my sister on that particular day and she brought up the Scotty’s incident from all those years ago. She said she often wondered what that did my psyche, the fact that I was racing through the house so I wouldn’t be left behind. And when I fell, he didn’t scoop me up to tend my wounds. He left me behind. She said I’d spent my life chasing perfection to earn love. That all I’d ever wanted was to belong, to find where I fit. Apparently both of my sisters had been discussing it the other day, that men took advantage of that in me and they worried about me now that I was dating again. I think the last two years were hard on the people who loved me because they worried all along he’d break my heart.
Sometimes I feel like my family doesn’t really see me. Not who I truly am. In that moment, though, I felt like both of my sisters saw right through to the most vulnerable parts of my soul.
I stayed with a publisher who was bad for my career because of the sense of family it gave me. I stayed in a bad marriage more than a decade after I knew it was dead because I didn’t want to lose his family. I could point to a lot of times I stayed longer than I should have in jobs, relationships, or situations because of that sense of belonging.
My whole life, I have craved family. Not just flesh and blood, but the tribe of people you belong to. I think raising my boys helped with that, but as my time with them rapidly draws to a close--or at least, with them as we are now--I think it’s bothering me more and more than I haven’t found my person yet. I want a family. I want somewhere to go on holidays, people to gather at the lake with or coming and going from my house at gatherings. But I’d be truly thrilled to find my person. The one I can tell anything to. The one who has my back no matter what. The one who won’t leave me behind.
It’s hard to admit this. I sometimes feel a bit like the only place I do belong is on the Island of Misfit Toys because I haven’t found that person. A friend tells me it’s because I live life full speed ahead and I keep picking boys who can’t keep up. He’s not wrong.
Maybe that’s the problem. I’ve spent my life trying to be perfect for someone who was never going to be perfect for me. I’ve given myself black eyes for people who didn’t deserve my time, let alone my heart.
This year has been one of immense pain but also immense growth. Of letting go and new beginnings. I’m learning to lean in to my feelings. To trust them. To not be so hard on myself. To give myself credit for things I’ve done right and let myself off the hook for the missteps.
I can feel this terrible, wonderful year leading me to something better. To being someone better. Or, at very least, to being okay with the someone I am. While there are times I question his judgment, God made me who I am for a reason. The world must have needed one of me. I’m not just a spare part.
This past weekend was spent at a music festival with my boys. We had an amazing time and I met all kinds of wonderful people. Something about the weekend brought all of this full circle for me. I realized I’ve found a place I belong, a job that’s as much a family as a career move. Friends who love me. And my boys aren’t leaving. Our family will only grow as they do.
I also realized I’ve led an amazing life. I mean, it’s occurred to me before, but it really washed over me again this weekend. My life has been truly phenomenal. It’s full to the brim with people from all over the world who I love and who love me, even if I haven’t found that one person to do the day-to-day stuff with.
And I have to believe my person is still out there. Maybe I’ve already met him. Maybe not. But until I do, I’m determined to do a better job of guarding my heart. No more black eyes for me. At least, not the self-inflicted kind.